Georgia’s defense faces task of stopping Franklin

semerson@macon.comSeptember 3, 2012 

ATHENS -- For a while now, Georgia has been preparing for Missouri quarterback James Franklin. Head coach Mark Richt admitted as much a couple weeks ago, when he let it slip that freshman quarterback Faton Bauta, leading the scout team, “does a good job of imitating Franklin.”

But in Georgia’s season opener, so did Buffalo quarterback Alex Zordich. And it only renewed concerns about the ability of the Bulldogs’ defense to stop a quarterback who can not only pass, but run.

Like Franklin.

“He’s a guy that they design runs for,” Richt, speaking on his radio show Monday. “So that’s something we’ll have to worry about. But that’s exactly what we’re working on. It’s probably good that we had issues this game.”

Richt was alluding to Zordich, the unheralded Buffalo quarterback who on Saturday had some surprising rushing success.

Zordich broke free a number of times, especially on third down, and finished the day with 83 yards. That included a 2-yard keeper for a touchdown late in the game. Zordich has some run ability, rushing for 30 yards a game as a freshman two years ago. But Georgia, the fifth-best defense in the nation last year, didn’t expect to have that much trouble with a MAC quarterback.

“The QB run part was mostly off of drop-back pass situations,” Richt said. “I don’t think they had a plan to run an awful lot of QB run with the guy. But he got a bunch of his runs off of drop-back passes. We’ve gotta do a better job of staying in our gaps, staying in our rushing lanes the way we oughta be and keeping guys contained. So there’s just some things we’ve gotta get better at.”

It wasn’t just the rushing yards, as Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham pointed out.

“We’ve obviously gotta improve our ability to tackle the quarterback in our four-man rush, because he took off and he made the majority of his yards on passes, not really runs,” Grantham said.

Senior defensive end Abry Jones said the problem against Buffalo was “simple mistakes” that opened the door for Zordich.

“Not rushing the proper rushing lanes,” Jones said. “He had an opening to step up and space to run.”

The solace for Georgia: Part of its defensive improvement last year was in stopping quarterbacks with above-average ability.

In 2010, Mississippi State’s Chris Relf ran roughshod over the Georgia defense, gaining a game-high 109 yards, including on several vital third downs. Georgia lost 24-12. But last year Georgia held Relf to just 31 yards, sacking him four times, and won by two touchdowns.

“Anytime you play a dual-threat quarterback, you try to put emphasis on him,” Jones said. “That’s something we’ve really got to key on and try to stop (Franklin).”

So just how dangerous is Franklin? That may depend on whether one believes he’s about to face a much bigger rise in competition.

The best defense Franklin faced last year was Texas, which finished the year ranked 11th in total defense, as measured by total yards allowed. Franklin gained 46 yards rushing that day, not accounting for sacks, including a 26-yard rush and a touchdown. He also had a solid passing day.

Otherwise, going by the rankings, Franklin didn’t face many good defenses. But he did have some impressive performances:

• Against then-No. 23 Arizona State, he rushed for 109 yards, not counting two sacks, and passed for 319 yards, accounting for three touchdowns.

• Oklahoma, then ranked No. 1 in the country, held Franklin in check on the ground (1 rushing yard), but he passed for 246 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

• Against Kansas State, which finished the season ranked No. 15, Franklin ran for 64 yards, not counting two sacks, and a touchdown. He also managed 214 passing yards, but he was picked off once.

The best overall team Franklin faced last year was Oklahoma State, which finished the year ranked No. 3. In that game, Franklin had 55 net rushing yards and a touchdown, and also passed for another touchdown, but the Cowboys picked him off three times.

Georgia is doubtlessly watching some of that tape from the Oklahoma State game to see what worked against Franklin. But the Bulldogs can also watch their own most recent game tape to see what went wrong and what can be corrected.

“This defense is a very prideful defense,” senior defensive end Cornelius Washington said. “We live on dominating people. And that’s what we’re gonna go out (this) week and try to do.”

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